Shut Up and Sing

I love a good song. Who doesn’t? There’s something about music playing in the background that imparts upon the human voice greater beauty and increased credibility. The gestalt of the whole music/vocal experience is a magical thing.

But a few years ago I did a really stupid thing… I read the lyrics while not listening to a song and found the underlying meaning to be so humdrum it eroded the song’s beauty. So now while I still enjoy music, I understand that if I don’t scrutinize the actual meaning of a song’s lyrics, I just might be hypnotized into believing whatever drivel is being sung. The corollary to this is that if I really like a song, I don’t read the lyrics with the speakers turned off.

In a previous post I spoke about The Doors’ song “Touch Me”. It’s a lovely song but if you really pay attention to what the lyrics say, Jim Morrison comes off as a paranoid [vis: “What was that promise that you made? Why won’t you tell me what she said?”] dick who is just trying to get into some girl’s pants in spite of a girlfriend of hers telling her she should keep away from Jim. Using flowery words, he actually tells the woman that after having his way with her he intends to leave as soon as it stops raining or, at the very latest, at dawn. My advice to this woman is to avoid this jerk like the plaque unless she’s only interested in a one-night stand. Unfortunately, “Touch Me” is not the only song out there with dumb lyrics that sounds really romantic if you’re not paying too much attention.

In “Angie”, the classic Rolling Stones’ break-up ballad, Mick Jagger tells Angie, “With no loving in our souls and no money in our coats, you can’t say we’re satisfied”. OK, the couple has hit a run of bad luck, what with them having no money in their “coats”, and I can certainly understand wanting to end a relationship if the love is gone. But have they really fallen out of love?

Mick goes on to say “Oh, Angie, don’t you weep, all your kisses still taste sweet. I hate that sadness in your eyes.” If they’re so out-of-love, why is Angie so sad and why do her kisses still taste sweet? Obviously, she’s sad because she still loves him and is traumatized by his desire to break up. Her kisses still taste sweet to Mick because either…

  1. Mick was in love with her and is so callous that the sweetness of her “kisses” hasn’t changed in spite of their love deteriorating, or
  2. Mick is a horn-dog who was never in love with Angie in the first place and doesn’t need to love a woman for her “kisses” to taste sweet.

Judging from the song as a whole, Option #2 seems to make more sense so the only conclusion I can come to is that Mick got involved with Angie, he feigned love for her, she fell in love with him, and now he’s bored and ready to move on to other women in his quest for the sweetest “kiss”. Let’s not even talk about the fact that he’s dumping the poor girl when she’s going through a tough financial stretch. What a bastard! Couldn’t Mick stick out the relationship until she can afford to move out? Where’s Angie supposed to go? Does she even have taxi fare to take her to Jim Morrison’s place?

Understanding what was actually being said in a few songs awakened me to being very careful not to follow any song’s advice without taking a step back and doing a little reading first. I am a real sucker for a song, even a restaurant jingle — many a time I’ve changed the evening’s menu plan after having heard an ad on the radio or TV.

I’d hate to think what would happen if I was watching a new music video by Norah Jones (who, in my estimation, is extremely cute and has a very sexy voice) and she ended the video by looking straight at me with those big brown eyes of hers and told me to do something… I just might do it. If it was something really unusual, like if she instructed me to drop my pants, take only one of my legs out of the pants, remove my socks, and Crazy-Glue my big toes together, I’d have a whole lot of explaining to do once Mrs. HoaiPhai got home from work.

Singers singing is bad enough but when talking off-stage without the music to back them up and the poetry of scripted lyrics to make them sound authoritative or sincere, singers just talking doesn’t turn out so well, especially when they’re talking about things other than music or their own careers.

As far as I know, this proud tradition was begun by none other than John Lennon. He was not your typical singer/songwriter… he wrote some brilliant lyrics that stand up to the “read-while-the-speakers-are-off test”. Perhaps the most insightful take on the root of the ills of Western Civilization ever set to music was “Working Class Hero”. All post-Lennon musical social commentators have had some seriously large shoes to fill, but on at least one occasion Lennon put his seriously large foot in his own mouth.

It seems that during a 1968 interview with a newspaper reporter Lennon said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink … We’re [i.e. The Beatles] more popular than Jesus now—I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.” Well, the backlash was incredible. In spite of Lennon’s damage control in the form of making public statements that he wasn’t making the value judgement that modern music was more worthy of enduring the test of time than Christianity and that he was just making the observation that young people were more interested in pop music than they were in religion, all kinds of protests erupted. Some churches in The U.S. had Beatles records burnings. The Beatles, already fed up of the controversy, observed that in order for people to burn their albums, people had to buy them first.

I also like Ted Nugent’s music but I’ve seen videos of him chanting right-wing political beliefs and vaporizing forest creatures using large bullets being fired out of even larger rifles. Let’s just say that I don’t think spending a weekend with the guy would be a whole lot of fun. So what with him being so well armed and me being such a slow-moving target, let’s quickly move on to a famous Canadian singer that has been in the news quite regularly lately, Justin Bieber.

I have to come clean on my bias here… I’ve never listened to a Bieber song, I’ve never liked the hype given to teen heartthrobs, and I take great satisfaction in reading articles about The Biebs behaving like a spoiled brat.

Recently, Justin Bieber was talking about his ancestry to a Rolling Stone reporter and said, “I’m actually part Indian. I think Inuit or something? I’m enough per cent that in Canada I can get free gas.”

Ha-ha! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  1. An Inuk [“Inuk” is the singular of “Inuit” and means “Eskimo”] is not the same as an Indian, which anyone with any kind of sensitivity to the native peoples of Canada would refer to as “First Nations”. The Museum of Inuit Art in Toronto offered Bieber a free personal tour anytime he wants (and his fans get free admission anytime in August) and, according to The National Post, vice-chief of The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples Dwight Dorey could’t confirm that The Dwieb is part aboriginal but Dorey is happy to help him learn more about his heritage. Take these people up on their offers, Bieber… you just might learn something!
  2. He’s not sure whether he has First Nations or Inuit blood? Why talk about it then? It just shows how little he cares about his family history! What was he going for here… adding a little exotic mystique to his image perhaps?
  3. The First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada do not get free gas, no matter how pure their bloodline is. What The Dwieb was probably talking about is a government-issued card a friend of mine (who was an Inuk) had that she could present at shops and not have to pay sales taxes. I don’t know if it was all provincial and federals sales taxes, or just one or the other, and I don’t know if she could buy tax-free absolutely anything that normally has sales tax added to it or if it was only certain types of merchandise. I don’t even know if the tax card scheme is still in place.
  4. I have been on at least three First Nations Territories and all three had gas stations with prices posted. One such gas station I visited several times and I saw people I strongly suspect were First Nations were known to the gas station’s owner by their first names and they actually paid cash for their fuel. So, Biebs, the Canadian aboriginal people do not get free gas. Even if they did and you qualified, would you try to get free gas for your all-chrome Fisker Karma using such a card?

Speaking about Bieber’s Fisker Karma, details of an incident involving it, its young owner, and paparazzi were recently in the news. It seems photographer Paul Raef was allegedly trying to get some snaps of The Dwieb (why, I don’t know) and The Dwieb was travelling at over 100 mph in an attempt to avoid, God forbid, having his picture taken. The cops eventually cited The Dwieb with speeding and Raef could face up to a year in county jail and up to $3,500 in fines as the first photographer to be charged under California’s new anti-paparazzi law.

This could have all been avoided if The Dwieb had only…

  • Driven according to the posted speed limits and let the guy get a couple of pictures of him. or
  • Hired a chauffeur-driven limo with curtains on the windows. or
  • Installed slave-fired flash units on his car so that any photographer’s flash unit would trigger a retaliatory burst of light that would screw up the paparazzo’s photos. or
  • Stayed home and ordered Chinese food (I know it’s tough to be cooped up in a $6½ million, 10,000 square-foot pad but hiding out in a claustrophobic shack like that might be the answer to the problems Bieber seems to have with photographers and being approached by his fans).

A while back there was an “incident” at The Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto. The Dwieb took exception to a bunch of his fans wanting a little attention from him. In the video below, he seems to be in a controlled-access area and his fans are not. He chose to just sit there on the rail insisting that the fans were “disrespecting” him and that they were “in his face”. Seeing as his back was to them and he was perched on a rail a foot above their heads, they were more accurately “in his fesses“. To diffuse this situation, Bieber could have…

  • Chatted it up with the fans whose money paid for his chrome car, mansion, and career. If a couple dozen teenage girls wanting to talk with him for a few minutes is bothersome to an eighteen-year-old guy, I suggest he sees a doctor and asks for some happy pills.
  • Walked away without saying a word. This would have been a much better PR tactic than “disrespecting” the people who made him who he is today.
  • Not stuck around the frontier of the secured and unsecured areas in the first place. Doesn’t Pearson have a VIP lounge he could have hidden in and, therefore, not alienated his fans?

Here’s a quick clip of “The Bieber Doesn’t Do Pearson Affair”.

So Justin, here’s a little advice from a guy who’s a lot older than you and not nearly as successful… thank God for your fans and knock yourself out being as genuinely interested in each and every fan who is interested in you and your music. I imagine it’s a huge sacrifice having so little privacy while in public but your fans paid for all the luxuries you take for granted that 99% of the world’s population never samples. Be nice to your public all the time… your career and money may not last (google “child stars gone bad” to see how performers with seemingly unstoppable careers can be so easily forgotten by the public) and in a few years when your fans are a little older, they might very well outgrow your music. And get an education in something you’re interested in, just in case your singing career tanks. In the meantime, only talk about things you actually know something about (like music and your personal life) and avoid expressing opinions because you’ll only end up alienating fans.

And one thing it of advice, Justin… if fans and photographers invading your privacy really bothers you so much, quit being a public figure. Stop performing, stop recording, stop selling your music, and don’t do movies, TV or interviews. After a few short years the unwanted attention will die down and you’ll have your privacy back. If you really want to make sure that you’re left alone, also give away your millions and all the other material stuff you wouldn’t have if you weren’t a famous singer. If there’s one thing that the media has less interest in than a former celebrity, it’s a poor former celebrity.

Sorry about that… I went on a bit of a Bieber rant, but he makes it so easy!

So for the rest of you civilians out there, let me recap in point form…

  • Don’t believe anything you hear in songs… it’s all fantasy put together so it sounds good to an uncritical mind.
  • Don’t read lyrics sheets of songs you do like… it’ll only ruin it for you.
  • Don’t watch interviews or news clips of singers you like… they almost always make themselves look like monumental doofuses.
  • If we are to believe the lyrics of their songs, singers are trigger-happy paranoid unfaithful dick bastards. The only thing that sets them apart from the rest of us is their lovely voices. Don’t feel disillusioned if you discover this independently of my warnings.
  • Maybe someone should look into tabling “celebrity muzzle laws” that would prevent performers from making public utterances off-stage and/or not directly pertaining to their craft or personal life.
  • Should Norah Jones ever tell you to glue your big toes together, ignore her… she’s talking to me.

Well, that just about covers it. Do you have any singers you love to hate? Can you think of any songs that have meanings far different from what they seem to be during a casual listening to? Let me know below!

[Hey! That last sentence rhymed! I wonder if someone out there is going to discover me so I’ll have throngs of pentagenarian-boppers following me wherever I go!]

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About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

12 responses to “Shut Up and Sing

  • Dave Farmer

    Awesome rant there! In a funny way Lennon wasn’t entirely wrong was he? Well maybe not at the time, but he did sort of foresee that one day teenagers (and adults too as time winds onward) will find religion less appealing compared to the funky new world of music, especially now it is everywhere at once given the uprising of old man internet.

    I remember watching the Dawn of the Dead remake, and the opening credits to the back drop of Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around. At the time, first viewing, I thought the music went so well with the rapid paced images of the opening scenes. I didn’t take much notice of the words, they just seemed to fit. Only later did I look them up online and thought “Hey, these lyrics don’t even need music or images to make them profound and scary.”

    They seem to stand out as frightening and prophetic. Funny how some lyrics can read like poetry, scary-ass poetry at that too! Another song that struck me with big images was All Along The Watch Tower, the first time I heard that was U2’s version. Love him or loath him, Bono gave that song real depth and an eerie sense of theatre. I was kinda young when I first heard that track (12 or so I think, in my dad’s beat up old Ford Cortina that stank of fake leather and oily tools and gizmos that rattled around in the back) but it had a great impact on me. Not sure which I prefer though, the U2 version or Jimi Hendrix.

    A particularly good music video worth watching is God is a DJ by Faithless. I recommend taking a look regardless of musical tastes, turn the volume down if you don’t like dance music. The reason why is because the leader singer, Maxi Jazz (yes I know, weird name!) not only sings/recites the lyrics like he’s reading poetry but he also signs them too! There’s something about how he makes the act of using sign language pretty damn cool!

    • HoaiPhai

      Glad you liked the rant! What I really liked and respected about Lennon was the conviction of his beliefs and the way he openly proclaimed how wrong he had been when he chained his mind, like was the the case after he saw Guru Maharishi in a new light. And he certainly was right about about the rock vs. Christianity thing but the people who took offence to what he said were way off base. They should have latched onto what he had said and realized that religion was, in fact, falling out of favour with youth and done something about it.

      In the ’70s and early ’80s I used to go to repertory theatres to watch those zombie movies, as well as the old cheap John Waters’ movies, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alejandro Jodorowsky flicks, and other psychotronic films. The shows we liked best were the midnight showings because the late hour really added to the impact the films had on us and sometimes the 60 or 90 minute walk home (the buses stopped working at 1 a.m.) got pretty spooky. Was Dawn of the Dead the one where the zombies were eating policemen and one got onto the radio in the squad car and instructed the dispatcher to “Send more cops!”? Great stuff!

      I never heard the Bono version of “All Along the Watchtower”… the Hendrix version was the version, as far as I was concerned, and far better than the original Dylan version. I’ll have to give it a listen as well as the Faithless song. Sure I listen to dance… I’ll listen to anything (except Bieber). Right now in my car I have an eclectic mix of CDs in the changer…”Lizard” by King Crimson, Vietnamese ballads by the late great Ngoc Lan, a compilation disk of Japanese and Korean pop, some ghazal sung in Urdu and Punjabi by the Canadian singer Kiran Aluwalia, and a British band Monsoon (English and Hindi). Except for a tiny bit of the Vietnamese and Korean, I understand very little of what I listen to. I do understand King Crimson’s lyrics but I’m convinced that they’re metaphorical and refer to things from history or politics I’m not familiar with!

  • Ape No. 1

    “Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too”

    That has been a lyric that has always made me do a bit of navel gazing whenever I hear it.

    “Dude looks like a lady!”

    That lyric not so much on the navel gazing.

    • HoaiPhai

      “Imagine” is a great song with lyrics that stand up to the read-with-the-speakers-off test and the amazing thing is that it was inspired by one of Yoko Ono’s writings and not the reaction by Christians to John’s statement about The Beatles’ vs. Christ’s popularity with contemporary youth.

      I had to look up “Dude Looks Like a Lady!” by listening to the sample on iTunes because I didn’t recognize the title. As it turns out, I did know the song but thought the lyric was “Do the lucky lady”! You’re right, not a very fertile work for navel gazing and the visual I always get when I hear that song is Robin Williams in drag dancing with a vacuum.

  • The Good Greatsby

    I’ve had that same experience before. Better to remain ignorant.

  • mainlymagyar

    I always thought “Angie” was a love song written about David Bowie. (a man just couldn’t sing “David” in 1971 yet…)

    • HoaiPhai

      Har! I’m a bit behind in responding to my comments (sorry!) but I think you commented around the time that I first read about the alleged Jagger/Bowie love affair. I’m not sure the the “Angie” lyrics fit your hypothesis but may I suggest that the song mentioned by Ape No. 1 in his comment might very well be Steven Tyler’s take on that romance!

  • elmediat

    Great post. I did a post on the Beiber Brain on my media literacy blog. The most remarkable thing about his career is how it totally bypassed television & and the record industry to establish a fan base using social media. As to his is lack of knowledge/education, fame and some talent in pop music does not mean a young person is exceptionally gifted or academically inclined.

    • HoaiPhai

      I’m going to have to read about Beiber’s Brain on your media literacy blog (and catch up on what you’ve been up to photographically… this summer has been a complete wash-up in terms of free time for me). I just do not understand how performers cannot resist the medias attempts to get answers from them on topics they are completely ill-equipped to address. You’d figure that they would have heard about others who have made the same mistake and then had to go into damage control and want to avoid such PR problems for themselves.

  • The Hook

    Sorry I haven’t been around much lately, but my book, The Bellman Chronicles, will be FREE to download on Sept. 10 – 11! Check it out on my Amazon Kindle page.. You won’t be disappointed. And if you can slip me a review, I’d be forever grateful…

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